The living dead want to eat your brains. Everyone knows this. In movies and on television we are moving from the age of moody sexy vampires to the age of flesh-eating mindless zombies. There are fewer vampires and more zombies, and maybe that means something. We’re moving from troubled but somewhat sympathetic monsters who want to suck all the blood out of you to keep alive – not nice, but understandable – to monsters who want to eat your brains, for no particular reason, other than they really want to. It’s a descent into utterly purposeless evil, but those of us from Pittsburgh know where this Zombie business started – with the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead – a low-budget hoot filmed in glorious black-and-white on location, just up the road in Butler County, and yes, the blood was actually Bosco Chocolate Syrup. But it worked. The film is now a classic, of sorts, and thus Pittsburgh introduced America to zombies. You can thank us later.
The world is Pittsburgh now. Zombies really are the rage, once again, probably because they fit right in with the current zeitgeist. Things are awful – economically, politically, socially – and it’s easy to feel as if the world is filled with the mindless undead, stumbling about, desperately and inexorably trying to eat your brains, for no good reason. And many of them are politicians, Republican politicians, muttering about long-settled and long-forgotten issues – states’ rights and contraception and abortion and how evil gay people really are – now back from the dead. They’ve been scaring the hell out of everyone since Obama won the first time, but that’s what they do. Be afraid, be very afraid – and vote for them. Resistance is futile.
That may be an unfair assessment of American politics, but at the moment, Republicans do have their zombie legislation – the American Health Care Act – their replacement for Obamacare that died in the House weeks ago. It was so cruel and nasty that it made Obamacare more popular than it’s been at any other point in its existence. Moderate Republicans – that Tuesday Group – knew that their constituents would tar and feather them if they voted for such a thing. Republicans pulled the bill. They didn’t have the votes to pass it. It was dead.
Republicans, however, do want to eat our brains. They rewrote it – sort of – they’re not quite finished – to placate that Tuesday Group – and had planned to reintroduce it, so they, and Donald Trump, would have at least one legislative accomplishment to show for his first one hundred days. There’s nothing else, but this bill is still dead. They won’t make that one hundred day deadline – but they’ll pass it, one day. That makes it the living dead:
The House appeared unlikely to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act ahead of President Trump’s 100th day in office as Republican leaders struggled on Thursday to round up the necessary support for their revised health care bill from balking Republican moderates.
Some White House officials would like a vote on Friday on a measure that would show progress on the president’s promise to quickly repeal his predecessor’s signature domestic achievement. But the reservations from numerous lawmakers showed the difficulty that Republican leaders face in trying to push through a repeal bill: While revisions to their bill won over conservative hardliners in the Freedom Caucus this week, those same changes threatened to drive away other members, even some who supported the first version.
In short, it’s the living dead:
At least 18 House Republicans oppose the latest version of the bill, the American Health Care Act, and leaders can lose no more than 22 to win passage if all members vote.
“We’re going to go when we have the votes,” said Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who added that Republicans would not be constrained by “some artificial deadline.”
Be afraid, be very afraid, or laugh at these guys:
House Democrats, sensing an advantage, pressured Republicans to once again back away from the bill, just as they did a month ago in an embarrassing defeat for Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan. Democratic leaders threatened to withhold votes from a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open past Friday if Republicans insisted on trying to jam the health care bill through the House on Friday or Saturday.
The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, said Mr. Trump was “really making fools of the members of Congress of his own party” by asking them to support a health bill that is unpopular with the public.
“If they vote on it, the minute they cast that vote, they put doo-doo on their shoe,” she said.
It seems that the Democrats have the leverage here. The revised American Health Care Act is nastier than the first version that about seventeen percent of America liked. Pass it and the Democrats won’t vote to keep funding the government. They’re not afraid of that seventeen percent. America won’t blame them, so there’s this:
Republican leaders in both chambers plan to pass the stopgap measure to give lawmakers another week to work out a spending package to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
That will be a week of the living dead, and there are those other guys:
The Senate stands ready to approve a one-week spending measure, but only once the broader spending agreement is complete. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday blocked a measure that Republican leaders hoped would allow the Senate to approve the stopgap budget without a formal vote. Schumer has indicated that he will drop his objections once he is assured a long-term budget agreement is in place, according to Senate Democratic aides.
Senators in both parties told reporters they were instructed not to leave Washington on Thursday night.
“Instead of rushing through health care,” Schumer told reporters, “they first ought to get the government funded for a full year – plain and simple.”
That complicates things, as does the disagreement between the president and Congress:
The frenzy of activity behind closed doors Thursday was largely driven by White House officials who were eager to see a vote on the measure ahead of the 100-day mark for President Trump while congressional leaders in both parties were more focused this week on a spending agreement, according to multiple people involved in the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly.
No one seems to be afraid of Donald Trump now, or afraid of zombies:
“If Republicans pursue this partisan path of forcing Americans to pay more for less and destabilizing our county’s health-care system,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), then “Republicans should be prepared to keep the government open on their own.”
That was countered by this:
Trump weighed into the spending wars on Thursday morning, indicating it was Democrats who bore the blame for shutdown threats because the party was focused on “bailing out insurance companies” while the president wants to “rebuild our military and secure our border.”
But it was Republicans who this week jettisoned Trump’s top priority – money for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – because of widespread agreement that it should not be tied to the spending deal. Trump has also agreed to pay the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people who get their insurance under the ACA – something he threatened to withhold if he did not get money for the wall.
Ryan on Thursday also blamed Democrats for “dragging their feet” on negotiations in an apparent preparation to blame Democrats if their deal falls through.
The wall can wait. Those cost-sharing subsidies will continue – Trump won’t blow up the insurance markets after all, leaving twenty million without health insurance at all. What more do the Democrats want? All the Republicans want is for the American Health Care Act to return from the dead.
Josh Marshall says it’s not that simple:
The key issue is that this exercise is really not about passing a law that repeals or in some limited sense replaces Obamacare. It’s really about getting the Freedom Caucus (the far-right group among House Republicans) off the hook for failing to repeal Obamacare – and also, those One Hundred Days.
Right or wrong, the Freedom Caucus took much of the blame for the failure of repeal on round one. My own sense is that it probably would have failed on the moderate side of the caucus as well. But the Freedom guys preen more effectively and negotiate in public. Pushing through this new bill – a Freedom Caucus-friendly bill with their votes – allows the right-wingers in the Freedom Caucus to say, “We didn’t fail. We repealed Obamacare. The Senate screwed up. Or maybe the House moderates screwed up.” Either way the blame is off them.
Meanwhile, the President is on high single digit tweet storms over his One Hundred Days ego injury. Passing Trumpcare 2.0 in the House gets him something to point to that he’s accomplished during his first 100 days in office. The fact that it is highly unlikely to get through the Senate is something he’ll ignore.
And the rest is obvious:
The upshot is that President Trump and House hardliners both have fairly narrow and selfish interests in pushing this through the House, just not one tied to any likelihood of actually becoming law. But it comes at the cost of forcing moderates (who tend to be but are not all in swing districts) to vote on a bill which will haunt them when they run for reelection – even if it never becomes law.
The Democrats must scarcely be able to believe their luck. Unbridled Republican infighting, and no center of gravity to bring factions to heel, is leading to the best of all worlds in partisan terms. Get vulnerable Republicans to vote yes on a toxic bill even though there’s little chance the horrendous policy outcomes will ever happen. If this happens the Dems will get their cake and have it too.
Marshall adds this:
Republicans are allowing Democrats to plausibly argue in 2018 that Republicans will keep coming after your health care coverage as long as they’re in power. This is now demonstrably the case…
With Republicans trying to do this again and again, Democrats will be able to say: They tried to take away your care, kill pre-existing conditions protections, etc. And they’re going to keep trying. My moderate GOP opponent here, do you trust him/her?
Republicans do want to eat our brains, and Michael Gerson reflects on Trump’s first hundred days:
The president is particularly proud of the consequential elevation of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But this action invites a comparison. Trump’s one unquestioned achievement consists of appointing another man who actually has thoughtful convictions.
Much of Trump’s 100-days defense could have been employed by the pharaoh who ruled after the one in the book of Exodus. The cattle haven’t all died. We’ve seen less fiery hail. And pestilence has been kept to an acceptable minimum.
There’s a reason for that:
Trump is failing because he has little knowledge of the world and no guiding star of moral principle. The best of our leaders – think Abraham Lincoln – have been sure about the truth and uncertain about themselves. Trump is the opposite. His mind is uncluttered by creeds. He knows what he wants at any given moment, but it can bear little relation to the moment following. Who really believes that he would be sleepless if the wall were not built or if NAFTA ultimately survived? Who believes he would not be sleepless because of a nasty joke at his expense during a dinner party?
That’s him, and that’s the problem:
Without deep and thoughtful beliefs, persuasion is impossible. It is public reasoning that allows others to follow a leader’s footsteps in the snow. What has Trump done to rationally and respectfully persuade his critics?
Without deep and thoughtful beliefs, the prevailing advice is often the latest advice. For a rootless leader, in Oscar Wilde’s phrase, “passions are quotations.”
That’s shown in this item in the Los Angeles Times:
President Trump and House Republicans, in their rush to resuscitate a bill rolling back the Affordable Care Act, are increasingly isolating themselves from outside input and rejecting entreaties to work collaboratively, according to multiple healthcare officials who have tried to engage GOP leaders… They continue to refuse to reach out to Democrats. Even Senate Republicans have been largely sidelined, though their support will be crucial to putting a measure on Trump’s desk.
And senior House Republicans and White House officials have almost completely shut out doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and others who work in the healthcare system, industry officials say, despite pleas from many healthcare leaders to seek an alternative path that doesn’t threaten protections for tens of millions of Americans.
“To think you are going to revamp the entire American healthcare system without involving any of the people who actually deliver healthcare is insanity,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Assn., whose members include many of the nation’s largest medical systems.
And add this too:
Health insurers, who initially found House Republicans and Trump administration officials open to suggestions for improving insurance markets, say it is increasingly difficult to have realistic discussions, according to numerous industry officials.
“They’re not interested in how health policy actually works,” said one insurance company official, who asked not to be identified discussing conversations with GOP officials. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Another longtime healthcare lobbyist, who also did not want to be identified as criticizing Republicans, said he’d never seen legislation developed with such disregard for expert input. “It is totally divorced from reality,” he said.
And, on the side of reality:
Opposition among those who work in healthcare has only deepened amid the current GOP efforts to win over conservative lawmakers with the new amendment, with the American Medical Assn. and the American Hospital Assn. restating their rejection of the House legislation.
The American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm – one of many leading groups representing patients with serious illnesses who have spoken out against the GOP campaign to repeal Obamacare – warned of the return of “a patchwork system of health coverage in which patients with preexisting conditions in some states would no longer be protected.”
The powerful AARP said that provisions in the House bill would push up insurance costs for older Americans while doing nothing to tackle high prescription drug costs.
And on Wednesday, a coalition of six leading physician groups representing more than 560,000 doctors – including pediatricians, family physicians and obstetricians – urged congressional leaders to put aside the House GOP legislation and work with doctors on an alternative that would not jeopardize insurance coverage for millions of Americans.
Here’s the sort version:
When asked if he’d been contacted by any Republican leaders for suggestions about ways to improve the legislation that failed last month, a senior lobbyist at one leading patient advocacy group simply laughed out loud.
How did it come to this? Alex Isenstadt knows. At Politico he tells the tale:
The 70-year-old leader of the free world sat behind his desk in the Oval Office last Friday afternoon, doing what he’s done for years: selling himself. His 100th day in office was approaching, and Trump was eager to reshape the hardening narrative of a White House veering off course.
So he took it upon himself to explain that his presidency was actually on track, inviting a pair of POLITICO reporters into the Oval Office for an impromptu meeting. He sat at the Resolute Desk, with his daughter Ivanka across from him. One aide said the chat was off-the-record, but Trump insisted, over objections from nervous-looking staffers, that he be quoted.
That was probably a bad idea:
He addressed the idea that his senior aides weren’t getting along. He called out their names and, one by one, they walked in, each surprised to see reporters in the room – chief of staff Reince Priebus, then chief strategist Steve Bannon, and eventually senior adviser Jared Kushner. “The team gets along really, really well,” he said.
He turned to his relationships with world leaders. “I have a terrific relationship with Xi,” he said, referring to the Chinese president, who Trump recently invited for a weekend visit at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Finally, he rattled off the biggest hits of his first three months and promised more to come.
It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.
Fine, but Politico’s reporters nosed around:
So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power. Mistrust between aides runs so deep that many now employ their own personal PR advisers – in part to ensure their own narratives get out. Trump himself has been deeply engaged with media figures, even huddling in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge.
Trump remains reliant as ever on his children and longtime friends for counsel. White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press. Among his first reads in the morning is still the New York Post. When Trump feels like playing golf, he does – at courses he owns. When Trump feels like eating out, he does – at hotels with his name on the outside.
As president, Trump has repeatedly reminded his audiences, both public and private, about his longshot electoral victory. That unexpected win gave him and his closest advisers the false sense that governing would be as easy to master as running a successful campaign turned out to be.
That was a mistake:
When Donald Trump gets angry, he fumes. “You can’t make them happy,” he said. “These people want more and more.”
He was complaining to friends that he had negotiated for weeks with Freedom Caucus members and he couldn’t believe the group was still against the health care legislation. Trump and his advisers were buzzing about making an enemies list and wanted to force a vote. But it was Trump, a man who hates to show weakness, who had to blink. As support flagged, the bill was shelved.
“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”
Who knew? Everyone but Trump knew. This was hard:
House Republicans’ rejection of his plan to repeal-and-replace Obamacare served as a wake-up call – and a clarifying moment when he realized he couldn’t leave Congress to others, even Speaker Paul Ryan.
Trump had campaigned in generalities – “repeal-and-replace with something terrific,” he’d promised – and after the election Trump and his team decided to let Ryan take the lead on health care. Trump just wanted to sign a bill. He didn’t necessarily care what it said.
But the Freedom Caucus did. They felt left out of the process – and they hated Ryan’s bill. They complained to the White House almost every day and made threats. They seized on the bill’s anemic public approval.
So Trump personally got involved, just as he had long negotiated with business partners, offering a mix of wooing and threats. He even dispatched his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former House GOP hardliner himself, to threaten a particularly outspoken critic, Rep. Mark Sanford.
It backfired. Freedom Caucus members weren’t afraid to say no. In an embarrassing setback, Trump called to pull the bill.
That won’t happen again:
As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges – and the limits – of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante, “to talk him out of doing crazy things.”
That’s life in White House now, as is this:
One key development: White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.
“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”
That’s how you manage a spoiled brat prone to tantrums, but that has its risks:
Downplaying the downside risk of a decision can win out in the short term. But the risk is a presidential dressing-down – delivered in a yell. “You don’t want to be the person who sold him on something that turned out to be a bad idea,” the person said.
That’s not comforting, nor is this:
Advisers have tried to curtail Trump’s idle hours, hoping to prevent him from watching cable news or calling old friends and then tweeting about it. That only works during the workday, though. Trump’s evenings and weekends have remained largely his own.
Now add this:
He also doesn’t like managing – or, rather, doesn’t mind stoking competition among his staffers. While his predecessor was known as “no-drama Obama,” Trump has presided over a series of melodramas involving his top aides, including Priebus, Bannon, counselor Kellyanne Conway and economic adviser Gary Cohn.
“He has always been a guy who loves the idea of being a royal surrounded by a court,” said Michael D’Antonio, one of Trump’s biographers.
That’s not comforting either, so we get this about Trump:
He got into a diplomatic row with Canada, one of America’s closest allies, threatening a trade war. He moved toward unwinding NAFTA. “There is no way we can do everything he wants to do this week,” one senior official said.
“Trump is a guy of action. He likes to move,” said Chris Ruddy, a close friend. “He doesn’t necessarily worry about all the collateral damage or the consequences.”
But they do manage him:
White House officials say they now have a more deliberative process of decision-making. Issues don’t go to his desk until they’ve had a thorough vetting in at least three meetings. Aides have cautioned him to slow down and have told him everything is not possible in his time frame. Sometimes, administration officials say, he listens and takes the news well. Sometimes, he keeps the demands going.
And sometimes he gets it:
President Trump was poised to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before a bevy of advisers and administration officials reportedly talked him out of it.
“I was all set to terminate,” Trump told The Washington Post on Thursday. “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.”
Trump echoed that characterization in an interview with Reuters, saying he was “psyched to terminate” NAFTA before fielding calls with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
The president had planned to sign the document triggering a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA on Saturday – the marker of his 100th day in office. But a group of top administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urged the president to reconsider the move, the Post reported.
Trump acknowledged earlier on Thursday that terminating the free trade agreement would be a “shock to the system.”
They talked him down. Telephone calls with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada helped – those two eased him off the ledge. There is that constant need to talk him out of doing crazy things, but zombies can be managed. Sure, they want to eat your brains, for no particular reason, other than they really want to, but they can be managed – and it seems Americans do like zombies. They elected one.